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Benson's Redistricting Settlement Would Redraw 11 State House Districts

Benson's Redistricting Settlement Would Redraw 11 State House Districts

Secretary of State (SOS) Jocelyn Benson announced a proposed deal in the federal redistricting lawsuit that would involve the Legislature redrawing 11 state House districts, which the court would then have to approve for the 2020 elections.

The SOS announced Friday a consent agreement reached with the suit plaintiffs -- the League of Women Voters (LWV) -- seeking to redraw the 24th, 32nd, 51st, 55th, 60th, 63rd, 76th, 91st, 92nd, 94th and 95th state House districts, which the settlement concludes were drawn in "violation of the U.S. Constitution," according to a press release issued by the SOS.

In redrawing these districts, it's possible another 12 other seats would need to be redrawn, if not more.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers who intervened in the suit -- the GOP congressional delegation, House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and Rep. Aaron Miller (R-Sturgis) -- have gone to the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) to request an emergency stay "of all proceedings" in the LWV redistricting case.

They've also requested SCOTUS order the federal district court handling the redistricting case to stay a trial until SCOTUS makes decisions in two related cases before it. The requested emergency stay was directed at Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The GOP intervenors argue that how SCOTUS handles those cases "will be applicable, instructive, and potentially dispositive to the action before the district court in the present case."

The consent deal reached between Benson and the LWV would still need approval by the three-judge panel -- Eric Clay, Denise Hood and Gordon Quist. The federal court would determine the timeframe for the redrawn districts, which are expected to only affect the 2020 elections.

The members representing the affected districts, in numerical order, are Reps. Steve Marino (R-Harrison Twp.), Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Twp.), Mike Mueller (R-Linden), Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor), Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo), Matt Hall (R-Emmett Twp.), Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids), Greg VanWoerkom (R-Norton Shores), Terry Sabo (D-Muskegon), Rodney Wakeman (R-Freeland) and Vanessa Guerra (D-Saginaw).

Benson said Friday the redrawing of districts must done in a transparent way while following applicable federal and state laws. But Ed Sarpolus of Target Insyght, who has previously drawn legislative maps for MIRS, said it's not automatically a given Democrats would come out better under the consent agreement.

Sarpolus said the criteria used to draw the maps are a key question. If the usual Apol standards are used -- minimizing line breaks of counties, cities and townships -- he said the new maps may not look much different than the ones today.

The districts identified in the consent agreement are those districts Benson flagged as having a poor "efficiency gap," or "wasted votes" -- votes cast for the losing candidate or those not needed for the winning candidate to win.

Some of the named districts share borders, while others -- like the Grand Rapids-based 76th, Genesee County-based 51st and the Ann Arbor area's 55th -- stand apart from the others.

Sarpolus said its very likely more districts than just the 11 mentioned in the agreement would be affected, pointing to the 51st as one example.

The 91st and 92nd districts are both Muskegon-area districts, with the 91st carrying a 52 percent Democratic base, but represented by the freshman Republican VanWoerkom -- and the 92nd carrying a 69 percent Democratic base.

The 94th and 95th districts surround the Saginaw area, with the 94th carrying a 56 percent GOP base and the 95th boasting a 75 percent Democratic advantage.

And in Macomb County, the 24th carries a 51 percent Republican advantage and the nearby 32nd has a 53 percent GOP base.

House Republicans currently hold a 58-52 majority, meaning three more seats need to be flipped by Dems for a tie, and four to gain majority. Five of the affected members – Mueller, Hall, Hood, VanWoerkom and Wakeman – are freshmen lawmakers, while Warren and Guerra are starting their final House terms.

Sarpolus raised questions about how to alter some of the districts chosen – for instance, he wasn't sure how to change the Macomb-based 24th and 32nd districts, based on where they connect. And on the City of Kalamazoo-based 60th, and the 63rd District, which stretches across Kalamazoo County and into Calhoun County, Sarpolus said there's not enough geography to swap to make them equal districts.

Benson said Friday the deal was designed to have "minimum upheaval," while recognizing the maps were gerrymandered for partisan advantage, she said. She said the deal "strikes a balance" between the "unconstitutionality" of the 2011 maps while getting a remedy "limited in scope and impact" given the time the districts have been in place, according to the SOS press release.

"It does not matter to me which party drew the districts. What matters to me is whether they were drawn to circumvent the will of the voters," Benson said.

"I can't, in good conscious, direct attorneys to say in a trial that these districts comply with the one-person, one-vote promise in our constitution when they do not. I believe the court would likely agree they do not."

In the proposed deal, the LWV also agreed to drop all claims challenging the constitutionality of the state Senate and U.S. Congressional districts. Amber McCann, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), said that Shirkey is "reviewing the language of the settlement with legal staff."

House Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) said if the court approves the agreement, "House Democrats stand ready to work with our Republican counterparts to ensure that the new House districts are fair and constitutional."

The SOS had recently petitioned the court to delay a scheduled trial, indicating she was seeking to reach a deal with the LWV -- represented by attorney Mark Brewer -- over the alleged gerrymandered districts.

Brewer, reached earlier Friday, did not comment, as he said nothing had been filed in court yet. Later in the day, he was quoted in a press release issued by the LWV where he said, "This has been a long, hard fight. Settlement negotiations are rarely easy, but we are satisfied with the terms and hopeful that the court will approve this settlement."

"If approved by the court, the impact of this settlement will go far beyond just those Michigan voters in the redrawn districts and shows the power of compromise,” said Judy Karandjeff, president of the LWV, in a statement.

Republican lawmakers who intervened in the suit, have, according to the court documents filed by attorneys for the LWV and Benson, "been included on emails negotiating the proposed consent decree."

"Instead of submitting their own proposals, Intervenors eventually objected to the entire consent decree," according to the court documents, which argue the court can approve the agreement over the intervening parties' objections. "Contrary to Intervenors’ contentions, the Compromise is not the result of any collusion."

Gary Gordon, who represents some of the GOP intervenors, did not reply to a request for comment Friday.

Republicans have been protesting Benson for pursuing what they say is a secretive "backroom deal" to redraw the maps with Brewer -- both of whom are Democrats -- in an effort to bolster Democrats' election chances with different districts.

That's roughly the same claim made by LWV against Republicans – making backroom deals to draw the maps for a specific partisan result in mind -- in their suit challenging the constitutionality of the 2011 election maps.

Michigan Republican Party spokesperson Tony Zammit said Friday the settlement “clearly is an attempt by Jocelyn Benson and the Democrats to try and steal the State House of Representatives in 2020."

He said Democrats should know "it will be nearly impossible to redraw these 11 districts without affecting countless others causing electoral chaos" and that "outdated 10-year-old data will be utilized to draw the new lines which will not accurately reflect the demographics of our state."

And the Michigan Freedom Fund (MFF) again demanded Benson "immediately release all records regarding her settlement talks" with the LWV.

“Voters deserve the truth, they deserve transparency, and they deserve a fair and honest process," the MFF said in a statement. "Benson must immediately release to the public all of the secret records regarding her plan to funnel big deals to campaign supporters, then she must recuse herself from the case to avoid additional disqualifying conflicts of interest."

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